Partaking In Assisted Living

Martin Bayne speaks about partaking in “assisted living” on NPR (National Public Radio)

Assisted Living snip part1 – 2min 30sec

Assisted Living snip part2 – 4min 14sec

it’s a slower process, generally, and I’m allowed to kind of take part of it.

This woman that died last week, I went into her room that night and sat with her, holding her hand, and she died the next morning while her son was by her bedside. And I talked to her son and gave her son a hug, and I’m much more – I guess relaxed is a word I have to use again, about my own death. When it comes, it comes. And whatever happens happens.

I’m told that 100 billion people have died up to this point in time on our planet, and none of them have come back to complain, and so it can’t be that bad.

(LAUGHTER)

TERRY: So how did you become the person who goes in and holds the hand of the person who’s dying?

BAYNE: Because I wanted to. I wanted to be there, and people know it. I make an attempt when anybody new comes into the building to introduce myself to them immediately. And when people are coming to an assisted living facility, it’s typically after a trauma in their life: They just lost a spouse; they have some terrible disease; or they’re in a stage of dementia where they can’t live by themselves.

And it can be frightening for people at that age to come in and all of a sudden have to deal with all this foreign, new stuff. So I make it a point to go right up and introduce myself. And I think that my philosophy that it’s the small things in life, the very small things, that mean the most. That too has given me a certain position, if you want, in the community.

And I think my age, too, people just kind of scratch their heads and look at me sometimes. But I love the community I’m in. It is my home, and the people there, no matter how demented or how sick, or whatever wrong with them, I feel that my responsibility to make their journey while still on this planet as joyous and fulfilling as possible.

TERRY: So something about your background that I’d like to bring up, you spent five years, I think, living in a Buddhist monastery on the West Coast.

BAYNE: Close, four or five years, yeah.

TERRY: Four or five years. And were you in a Jesuit monastery for a time, too?

BAYNE: I was in a Benedictine Catholic monastery for a year.

TERRY: Oh, for a year.

BAYNE: For a year, yeah.

TERRY: So I’m wondering if the things that you learned there about meditation, contemplation, are helping you at this stage of your life and helping you live in an assisted living facility, in an atmosphere that some people might find very depressing, you know, because people are so much older than you are and so much, you know, closer to death and often more seriously impaired – and so on.

BAYNE: You know, the Buddha said – I wasn’t there obviously to hear him, but I’m told he said that life isn’t permanent. And the time that I spent as a monk in both monasteries was without a doubt the most productive, powerful period of my life. And I owe, I believe, everything to the training that I received in both monasteries.

Zen is not that far from Catholicism. I was at the Benedictine monastery, and they encourage their monks to be rather eclectic when it comes to religious beliefs. They’re obviously Christian. But one of the monks had built a small Japanese tea ceremony room. And I was reading a book one day from – it was in the room. And it said the Buddha had learned how to turn the stream of compassion within.

And I dropped to my knees and started to weep. It never occurred to me that one could turn the stream of compassion within. Sometime later I was on a plane to California to the Buddhist monastery to try and find out how does one do this. How does one love themselves? How does one give oneself the benefit of the doubt?

TERRY: How does one give to oneself the compassion that would come naturally when it came to caring for other people.

BAYNE: Exactly because in my experience, Terry, this is all in a mirror, and how you treat yourself and how you treat other people is identical, identical. The love and affection that you have for other people is only as much as you can afford for yourself. It was like a homecoming. I had forgiven myself, Terry, of all the things that I had done that I didn’t think I should have done, of all the things I wasn’t I thought I should be. I accepted them.

And when that happened, it’s indescribable, really, that something so simple as accepting yourself, turning the stream of compassion within, yet it’s such a powerful gift. And not to just myself but to all those now I come in contact with.

TERRY: Well, it’s really been good to talk with you. I appreciate you making the trip to a radio studio so we could speak over microphones to each other so that the audience can hear you well. Thank you so much. Thank you for talking with us.

BAYNE: Terry, it was my pleasure.

TERRY: Martin Bayne is a resident of an assisted living facility because of Parkinson’s disease. He wrote an article about life there in Health Affairs, which was excerpted in the Washington Post. You’ll find a link to both, as well as a link to his new blog, and his literary journal on our website freshair.npr.org. I’m Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

Here is full interview from NPR